Bridgette sits, takes a bite of bacon, then looks over at Sydney. “DID . . . YOU . . . MAKE . . . THIS?” she says, pointing at the food dramatically. I cock my head, because she’s talking to Sydney the same way she talks to me. As if she’s deaf.

I look over at Sydney, who nods a response to Bridgette. I look back at Bridgette, and she says, “THANK . . . YOU!” She takes a bite of the eggs.

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And she spits them right back out onto her plate.

She coughs and rushes to take a drink, then pushes away from the table. She looks back at Sydney. “I . . . CAN’T . . . EAT . . . THIS . . . SHIT!” She walks back to the kitchen, drops her food in the trash, and heads back to her bedroom.

The three of us break out into laughter after her door closes. When the laughter subsides, I turn to Warren.

“Why does Bridgette think Sydney is deaf?”

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Warren laughs. “We don’t know,” he says. “But we don’t feel like correcting her just yet.”

I laugh on the outside, but inside I’m a little confused. I don’t know when Warren began referring to himself and Sydney as we, but I’m not sure I like it.

• • •

My bedroom light flicks on and off, so I close my laptop and walk to the door. I open it, and Sydney is standing in the hallway, holding her laptop. She hands me a piece of paper.

I already finished my homework for the rest of the week. I even cleaned the entire apartment, excluding Bridgette’s room, of course. Warren won’t let me watch TV because it’s not my night, whatever that means. So I was hoping I could hang out with you for a little while? I have to keep my mind busy, or I’ll start thinking about Hunter again, and then I’ll start feeling sorry for myself, and then I’ll want Pine-Sol, and I really don’t want to have any Pine-Sol, because I don’t want to become a raging alcoholic like you.

I smile, step aside, and motion her into my bedroom. She looks around. The only place to sit is my bed, so I point to it, then take a seat and pull my laptop onto my lap. She sits on the other side of the bed and does the same.

“Thanks,” she says with a smile. She opens her laptop and drops her eyes to the screen.

I tried not to take Warren’s advice this morning about admiring the dress she had on today, but it was hard not to look, especially when he so blatantly pointed it out. I’m not sure what kind of weird thing he and Bridgette have going on, but it rubs me the wrong way that he and Sydney seem to have hit it off so well.

And it really rubs me the wrong way that it rubs me the wrong way. I don’t look at her like that, so I don’t understand why I’m sitting here thinking about it. And if she were standing next to Maggie, there wouldn’t be a doubt in my mind that Maggie is more physically my type. Maggie is petite, with dark eyes and straight black hair. Sydney is the complete opposite. She’s taller than Maggie—pretty average height—but her body is a lot more defined and curvy than Maggie’s. Sydney definitely fills out the dress well, which is why Warren liked it. At least she changed into shorts before showing up at my bedroom door. That helps a little. The tops she wears are usually way too big for her, and they hang off her shoulders, which makes me think she took a lot of Hunter’s T-shirts with her when she packed her bags.

Maggie’s hair is always straight, whereas Sydney’s is hard to figure out. It seems to change with the weather, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The first time I saw her sitting on her balcony, I thought she had brown hair, but it turns out her hair was just wet. After playing guitar for about an hour that night, I looked at her as she was walking back inside her apartment, and her hair had dried completely and was in piles of blond waves that fell past her shoulders. Today it’s curly and pulled up into a messy knot on top of her head.

Sydney: Stop staring at me.

Shit.

I laugh and attempt to brush away whatever the hell that internal detour was I just took.

Me: You look sad.

The first night she showed up here, she seemed happier than she does right now. Maybe it just took time for reality to sink in.

Sydney: Is there a way we can chat on the computer? It’s a lot easier for me than texting.

Me: Sure. What’s your last name? I’ll friend you on Facebook.

Sydney: Blake.

I open my laptop and search her name. When I find her profile, I send her a friend request. She accepts it almost instantly, then shoots me a message.

Sydney: Hello, Ridge Lawson.

Me: Hello, Sydney Blake. Better?

She nods.

Sydney: You’re a computer programmer?

Me: Already stalking my profile? And yes. I work from home. Graduated two years ago with a degree in computer engineering.

Sydney: How old are you?

Me: 24.

Sydney: Please tell me 24 is a lot better than 22.

Me: 22 will be good for you. Maybe not this week or next week, but it’ll get better.

She sighs and puts one of her hands up to the back of her neck and rubs it, then begins typing again.

Sydney: I miss him. Is that crazy? I miss Tori, too. I still hate them and want to see them suffer, but I miss what I had with him. It’s really starting to hurt. When it first happened, I thought maybe I was better off without him, but now I just feel lost.

I don’t want to be harsh in my response, but at the same time, I’m not a girl, so I’m not about to tell her that what she’s feeling is normal. Because to me, it’s not normal.

Me: You only miss the idea of him. You weren’t happy with him even before you found out he was cheating. You were only with him because it was comfortable. You just miss the relationship, but you don’t miss Hunter.

She looks up at me and cocks her head, narrowing her eyes in my direction for a few seconds before dropping them back to the computer.

Sydney: How can you say I wasn’t happy with him? I was. Until I found out what he was doing, I honestly thought he was the one.

Me: No. You didn’t. You wanted him to be, but that’s not how you really felt.

Sydney: You’re kind of being a jerk right now, you know that?

I set my laptop beside me and walk to my desk. I pick up my notebook and a pen and go back to the bed and take a seat next to her. I flip open my notebook to the first set of lyrics she sent me.

Read these, I write at the top of the page. I set the notebook in her lap.

She looks down at the lyrics, then takes the pen. I don’t need to read them, she writes. I wrote them.

I scoot closer to her and put the notebook in my lap, then circle a few lines of her chorus. I point to them again. Read these as if you weren’t the one who wrote them.

She reluctantly looks down at the notebook and reads the chorus.

You don’t know me like you think you do

I pour me one, when I really want two

Oh, you’re living a lie

Living a lie

You think we’re good, but we’re really not

You coulda fixed things, but you missed your shot

You’re living a lie

Living a lie

When I’m certain she’s had time to read them, I pick up the pen and write: These words came from somewhere inside you, Sydney. You can tell yourself you were better off with him, but read the lyrics you wrote. Go back to what you were feeling when you wrote them. I circle several lines, then read her words along with her.

With a right turn, the tires start to burn

I see your smile, it’s been hiding for a while

For a while

Your foot pushes down against the ground

Your world starts to blur, can’t remember who you were

Who you were

I look at her, and she’s still staring at the paper. A single tear trickles down her cheek, and she quickly wipes it away.

She picks up the pen and begins writing. They’re just words, Ridge.

I reply, They’re your words, Sydney. Words that came from you. You say you feel lost without him, but you felt lost even when you were with him. Read the rest.

She inhales a deep breath, then looks down at the paper again.

I yell, slow down, we’re almost out of time

The road gets rough, have you had enough

Enough

You look at me, start heading for a tree

I open up the door, can’t take any more

Any more

Then I say,

You don’t know me like you think you do

I pour me one, when I really want two

Oh, you’re living a lie

Living a lie

You think we’re good, but we’re really not

You coulda fixed things, but you missed your shot

You’re living a lie

Living a lie.

6.

Sydney

I continue to stare at the words in the notebook.

Is he right? Did I write them because that’s how I really feel?

I never give it much thought when I write lyrics, because I’ve always felt no one would read them, so it doesn’t matter what the meaning is behind the words. But now that I think about it, maybe the fact that I don’t give them much thought proves that they really are a reflection of how I feel. To me, lyrics are harder to write when you have to invent the feelings behind them. That’s when lyrics take a lot of thought, when they aren’t genuine.

Oh, wow. Ridge is absolutely right. I wrote these lyrics weeks ago, long before I knew about Hunter and Tori.

I lean back against the headboard and open my laptop again.

Me: Okay, you win.

Ridge: It’s not a competition. Just trying to help you see that maybe this breakup is exactly what you needed. I don’t know you very well, but based on the lyrics you wrote, I’m guessing you’ve been craving the chance to be on your own for a while now.

Me: Well you claim not to know me very well, but you seem to know me better than I know myself.

Ridge: I only know what you told me in those lyrics. Speaking of which, you feel like running through them? I was about to compile them with the music to send to Brennan and could use your ears. Pun intended.

I laugh and elbow him.

Me: Sure. What do I do?

He stands and picks up his guitar, then nods his head toward the patio. I don’t want to go out on that patio. I don’t care if I was ready to leave Hunter, I sure wasn’t ready to leave Tori. And being out there will be too much of a distraction.

I crinkle my nose and shake my head. He glances across the courtyard at my apartment, then pulls his lips into a tight, thin line and slowly nods his head in understanding. He walks over to the bed and sits on the mattress next to me.

Ridge: I want you to sing the lyrics while I play. I’ll watch you so I can make sure we’re on the same page with where they need to be placed on the sheet music.

Me: No. I’m not singing in front of you.

He huffs and rolls his eyes.

Ridge: Are you afraid I’ll laugh at how awful you sound? I can’t HEAR YOU, SYDNEY!

He’s smiling his irritating smile at me.

Me: Shut up. Fine.

He sets the phone down and begins playing the song. When the lyrics are supposed to come in, he looks up, and I freeze. Not because I’m nervous, though. I freeze because I’m doing that thing again where I’m holding my breath because seeing him play is just . . . he’s incredible.

He doesn’t miss a beat when I skip my intro. He just starts over from the beginning and plays the opening again. I shake myself out of my pathetic awe and begin singing the words. I would probably never be singing lyrics in front of anyone one-on-one like this, but it helps that he can’t hear me. He does stare pretty hard, though, which is a little unnerving.

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